September 9, 2016. At approximately 11:30 am, Tom Pop, Manager of the HCRC at BFREE, was doing routine work at the turtle ponds when he heard a bird call above him. Because of his training as an avian technician and his work with the BFREE bird project, Tom immediately recognized the call as that of a Harpy eagle. He quickly looked up toward the sound and identified the bird perched above him in a tall tree overlooking the ponds.
During the next several hours, Tom, and BFREE staff members Amarta (Maya) Choc and Sipriano Canti observed and photographed the large raptor. Eventually, it flew from its perch and moved through the cacao agroforest toward the BFREE kitchen where it was observed for about an hour before disappearing farther into the forest. Analysis of the pictures taken shows that the bird is a sub-adult, likely about 1.5 years old, providing evidence that the small population in the Maya Mountains is continuing to grow.
The presence of the Harpy Eagle at BFREE is big news in Belize.
The Harpy eagle is the largest bird of prey in the Americas but habitat loss and hunting have eliminated the raptor throughout most of its range across Mexico and Central America. Harpy Eagles are classified as extremely rare and endangered in Belize. Back in 2000 they were thought to be extirpated from the area, but were rediscovered in 2005 by BFREE and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington researchers.
BFREE staff have reported a drastic increase in wildlife around the BFREE reserve recently, including large cats like pumas and jaguars, and other wildlife like peccaries and tapirs. As settlement in surrounding villages has increased, and forested areas near BFREE have decreased due to agricultural expansion, the BFREE preserve continues to play a vital role as a sanctuary for wildlife in southern Belize.
If you live in a community near BFREE and you spot a bird that might be a Harpy eagle, please call call or text Liberato Pop at 665-3788. Please be prepared to tell us where you saw the bird, what it was doing and at what time of day. Please do not try to scare or harm the bird.
For more info on Harpy eagle research at BFREE:
Author(s): James A. Rotenberg, Jacob A. Marlin, Liberato Pop, and William Garcia
Source: The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 124(2):292-297. 2012.
Published By: The Wilson Ornithological Society
Between 2006 and 2014, BFREE and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington established and implemented an intensive Harpy Eagle and avian monitoring program onsite in the BFREE private reserve and in the Bladen Nature Reserve.
“Wings of Hope,” is a 20 minute documentary chronicling the re-discovery of a population of wild Harpy Eagles in the Maya Mountains of southern Belize